I am learning about gender and respecting pronouns.

I am looking for reading recommendations and advice.

My 40th birthday is inching closer, and while I don’t consider myself old, a lot has changed since I was a young adult.


In the last few years, I’ve noticed people introducing themselves with their pronouns, and while I think it is a fantastic idea, I’ve only encountered it at a small handful of places.

I first encountered this when I took a class at a local university three years ago. I thought it was amazing how respectful everyone was. (Go Gen Z!) If someone didn’t know another’s pronouns they would ask. 

The second time I encountered this was a few months ago when I was a patient at a treatment center for eating disorders. We started every single therapy group by introducing ourselves with our names and pronouns. 

For some reason, I struggled with different pronouns at the treatment center. I used incorrect pronouns a few different times. As soon as I noticed it I apologized and corrected myself but I still felt like a total asshole.

I was one of the oldest patients at the treatment center but that’s still not a good excuse.

I feel bad that I can only remember a few times when people introduced themselves with their pronouns. Shouldn’t this be an everyday/everywhere thing? Maybe it would be different if I was around younger people more often.

Reading Up on Gender

So I just started reading a new book about gender. I apologized for using the wrong pronouns in treatment but I want people to know that I’m doing my best to learn more about it.

Here’s the book –

One thing I am enjoying about this book is its discussion on babies. One of the first things I person asks when you have a baby is if it’s a boy or girl. I remember when I was pregnant complete strangers asked me this question. You really can’t know a baby’s gender so you’re really just asking if it has a penis or vagina. When you break it down like that it’s pretty weird. This book includes gender-friendly baby questions which I think is helpful. I hadn’t really thought of that before.

Looking Back

I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like had gender and pronouns gotten the same attention when I was growing up as they do now. So many of my high school classmates struggled back in the day and I knew nothing about it. There have been so many revelations on Facebook in the past few years — old friends finally coming out in different ways.

Rural Ohio can be a pretty harsh place. Respecting someone for who they are could’ve gone a long way.


Does anyone else have any other reading suggestions on the topic?


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Can’t recommend any reading. Take my advice with a pinch of salt – I’m a cishetwhite man who just turned 53 in the UK, or “transphobia island” as it seems to be somewhat justifiably known, so I’ll see your “old” and raise you “old…er”. I have never been in a situation where someone told me their pronouns, but given that I work in a chemical plant rather than a university I don’t think that’s a surprise. The transgender people I know present clearly as the gender they live as, so the issue never arises (at least, never for me).

    I’d be very surprised if someone did introduce themselves with their pronouns in such an environment. Right now, it’d come across as borderline inappropriate oversharing to the point of being passive-aggressive, on the same level as if someone said “Hi, I’m John Smith and I’ve got a friend in Jesus”, or “Hi, I’m John Smith and I voted Leave in the referendum”. It would feel like they were saying “I’ve got a particular position on this thing you didn’t ask me about, and here’s what it is even though you didn’t ask, and now I dare you to make something of it.” On that basis, I’d mark their card as being someone to be watched very carefully and tiptoed around, just in case. And of course I wouldn’t make anything of it, and would make my best efforts to remember what they’d told me, and to be respectful of them as a person, always bearing in mind that they’ve chosen to make our very first interaction an implicit challenge. On the upside, I’m more likely to remember their name on that basis – as I age it’s getting harder to remember people’s names, I’m finding, let alone whatever other shit they feel like telling me right off the bat.

    That’s the baseline. There are exceptions. If someone presents as fairly androgynous (“Hi, I’m Gackt”), pronouns are a big help to just being polite, and I’d appreciate it and tell them so. It would be embarrassing for me to refer to someone with the wrong pronoun if they didn’t present clearly as one gender or another, and I want to show them basic courtesy. Using the correct pronouns is just basic courtesy.

    On the other hand, if they DO present clearly as one gender (and I have no intention of being drawn on what this means, as our societal expectations of gender presentation are well enough established that you DO know what I mean, even if you want to JAQ), but insist on other pronouns… well that’s embarrassing for them, whether they’re owning that or not. I refuse to be embarrassed if I address someone with, say, male pronouns if they’re clearly presenting as male, any more than I’d be embarrassed to call someone “Robert” if their name was in fact “Steve” and they were standing next to their identical twin Robert wearing the same clothes. I’ll do my best, and I absolutely intend to be respectful, but if you’re giving me no clues – or worse, deliberately giving me the *wrong* clues – then I’m not going to be embarrassed or apologetic (or at least, not *sincerely* apologetic) if I fuck it up.

    tl;dr: Just do your best to be polite, and as long as you know you’re doing that (and you DO know you’re doing that, because you apologise and correct yourself), then do not ever allow anyone to make you feel bad about getting it wrong.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    There have been so many revelations on Facebook in the past few years — old friends finally coming out in different ways

    One bloke who engaged in a fair bit of light homophobic bullying towards me at school (nothing particularly physical, mainly the usual stuff I’ve only relatively recently come to understand as “toxic masculinity”, namecalling, sexuality questioning) has come out as gay since. Entertainingly, I’m pretty sure the homophobic bullying he and many others engaged in came about at least in part because at school I did a lot of talking to girls, which was seen as “gay”. I’m sincerely happy for him, and honestly wish he’d felt able to be himself more at school, like I did. But it was the 80s, and great as the decade was for someone like me, if you were less conforming, looking back it was definitely a shitshow.

  3. Katydid says

    Accidents happen. Awhile back, I used the wrong gender when referring to someone who was talking about wearing dresses, and one of the commenters practically leapt down my throat and ripped out my tongue. I think if someone’s trying with good intent as you obviously are, then people should just chill the f*** out.

    Take names–we’ve all called someone the same name. “Chris…I mean, Mike…”

  4. K says

    In an episode of The Simpsons, Nelson-the-bully to Bart Simpson: “Ewww….Bart kissed a girl! That’s SO GAY!” LOL

  5. says

    One bloke who engaged in a fair bit of light homophobic bullying towards me at school … has come out as gay since.

    There was a good storyline in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (seasons 2 & 3) where a strong, thick-built asshat is bullying pretty much every other guy, but notably Xander (sidekick to Buffy). Eventually he comes out and is suddenly not an asshole anymore, instead becoming one of the good ones, and a sometime-ally to Buffy in her struggle against the Season3 BigBad. And while he dies in at least one timeline, the very existence of multiple timelines allow them to explore the character further. I won’t say that the depiction is completely realistic — this was Buffy after all — but even if the character transformations seem a bit sudden for real life, they very much work in the show’s universe. And to the extent that he dies, he’s not killed to save him from his gayness. Rather coming out as queer allowed him to become a hero who would choose to risk his life for others, which frequently, but not always, paid off.

  6. dangerousbeans says

    People generally assume the wrong pronouns for me, especially in an environment like a chemical plant, so when introducing myself to you shouldn’t i give you the information to talk about me appropriately?
    You don’t assume people’s names based on how they look if you don’t know, you ask so you’re not rude. Why is it different for pronouns?

    My experience as a trans person is that we can generally tell when someone gets our pronouns wrong deliberately, vs just making a mistake. If you do screw up just apologise quickly and try not to do it again. It does take time to unlearn the unconscious biases we are taught.
    Also if someone is curt with you after you use the wrong pronoun, just remember that they probably deal with that all day and it gets stressful.

    I like Julia Serano’s books on gender and feminism

    Final point 😛 , it’s not that we can’t know a baby’s gender, it probably doesn’t start developing until they are 2 or 3. Assigning a gender at birth is like deciding their profession at birth.

  7. Katydid says

    @Crip Dyke; a cable channel is currently airing Buffy episodes. Not only did the gay character stop bullying, but when the Scooby gang gets wind that there’s a student with a terrible secret and wants to kill the school. Xander goes to talk to him about secrets he might be keeping. The character assumes Xander’s trying to tell him Xander is gay and has a heart-to-heart talk with Xander about the great unburdening it is to come out, and how there’s help for him if he wants to. Great moment in television in the 1990s.

  8. sonofrojblake says

    @dangerousbeans, 6.

    People generally assume the wrong pronouns for me[…]when introducing myself to you shouldn’t i give you the information

    Yes, absolutely. And like I did say, I’ll appreciate it and tell you so, because you’re saving me from embarrassment that should be on me. This is assuming, of course, that you don’t clearly present as one or another gender. If you’re clearly presenting as male, though, for example, but you tell me to use female pronouns, then I’m going to use female pronouns (because politeness) and walk on eggshells around you (because you’ve chosen to make our first interaction an implicit challenge and you’re in my snap judgement likely the sort of person who’s going to report any microaggression, real or perceived, to HR, and I haven’t got the time for that).

    You don’t assume people’s names based on how they look if you don’t know, you ask so you’re not rude. Why is it different for pronouns?

    This simply can’t be a sincere question, because the answer is so blindly obvious that to explain it risks coming off as rude and condescending. But OK, I’ll bite – but remember, you asked.

    There are, at a very conservative estimate, thousands of possible names a person could have. Possibly tens of thousands. Maybe even more. The only possible reason for assuming someone’s name is if they’re wearing a nametag – they’re then giving a very visible clue that it’s reasonable to follow.

    Even in the most liberal, SJWful, snowflake-indulgent of US coastal highbrow universities, I’d be surprised if the number of genders available reaches three figures. And for the vast, massively, ludicrously overwhelming majority of people, you absolutely can reliably assume their pronouns based on how they look, and to pretend otherwise is just deliberately and obtusely disingenuous, exactly the sort of behaviour that would deserve treating someone who exhibits it with suspicion and caution. And if someone is clearly presenting as one of the two traditional genders, then they’re basically wearing a nametag.

    Now: if you went to a restaurant and the waiter had a nametag saying “Hi, my name is Dave”, and you said “Hi Dave”, then I think you’d have reason to complain if the waiter then got shitty with you because their name is actually Helen. At the very least, you’d probably not go to that restaurant again – right? And if someone wearing a nametag saying “Hi, my name is Dave” said, out loud “Hi, my name is Helen”, you’d have reason to look at the nametag and think “OK…” and assume they were at least on some level laying a trap.

    Tell me your pronouns. I’ll use them. To do otherwise is the behaviour of an asshole.

  9. dangerousbeans says

    Didn’t respond for a bit cause I was ill

    Or you could just stop being lazy and get used to the idea that you might need to ask about this? you can cope with a variety of names, you can cope with variety in pronouns.
    Gendered presentation is not reliable. If I’m wearing motorcycle gear (quite common for me in public, my primary form of transport) I’m not presenting as a man or woman, just someone who wants to keep their skin.
    A lot of people wear work clothes which are coded masculine due to societal BS, are you going to call a woman working in a nursery he/him because of her work-boots?
    Your argument is basically that people should confirm strictly to gender roles and they are bad for asking for accommodation if they don’t. Someone who uses she/her pronouns but presents as a man (in your opinion) should still be respected, not harassed for not looking feminine enough for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *